The Knicks' playoff seed is critical for a couple of reasons. For starters, if they are able to remain in second place in the Eastern Conference, they are guaranteed home court through the first two rounds of the playoffs. New York is 24-10 at home compared to 18-16 on the road, so playing a majority of its postseason games at Madison Square Garden is a distinct advantage.
Also, as the second seed, the Knicks will not have to face the defending champion Miami Heat, who are clearly the best team in the NBA and winners of a remarkable 25 straight games, until the Conference Finals.
Considering both of these factors, it is not a stretch to say that finishing second in the conference could be the difference between meeting the Heat in the Conference Finals or losing in the second round.
The Knicks' main competition for the second seed is the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets. As Atlantic Division foes, the Nets are also a threat to steal away the Knicks' first division title since the 1993-94 season.
Currently, New York leads third-place Indiana by percentage points, despite both teams being 16 games over .500, since they have one less loss. The Nets are in fourth place in the conference, 2.5 games behind the Knicks and Pacers (three games back in the loss column to the former and two games back to the latter).
Since these teams are pretty evenly matched, with New York and Indiana generally considered slightly better than Brooklyn, an analysis of each team's remaining schedule goes a long way towards determining who will grab the second seed.
The below chart breaks these schedules down in a variety of different ways:
|Team||Number of Games Remaining (Home/Road Splits)||Remaining Opponents Won/Loss Record (Winning %)||Team's 2012-13 Record vs. Remaining Opponents (Winning %)|
|Knicks||14 games (7 Home/7 Road)||493-472 (.511)||12-9 (.571)|
|Pacers||12 games (5 Home/7 Road)||400-407 (.496)||14-11 (.560)|
|Nets||13 games (5 Home/8 Road)||394-508 (.437)||22-6 (.786)|
Based on this chart, the Knicks have the hardest schedule in terms of the quality of their opponents. They are the only team, however, that doesn't have to play more games on the road than at home. This is a huge advantage considering how good the Knicks are at home.
Also, the Pacers are 15-19 on the road and the Nets are 18-15. Despite Brooklyn's exceedingly easy schedule, the Nets may still struggle given the fact they have three more road games than home games.
In addition, the Knicks don't have any lengthy road trips left—both in distance traveled and number of games in a row. The furthest west they have to venture is to Oklahoma City on April 7, and their longest road trip is two games, which they have twice—in the beginning and middle of April.
The Pacers start a four-game road trip on Wednesday night in Houston. They also play Dallas, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers on the trip. To make matters worse, their first game back home is against the Thunder on April 5.
New York also comes out ahead in the remaining games between the three teams. The Knicks get the Pacers at home on April 14. They are 1-2 against Indiana this season, but both losses came on the road and the one win was at MSG. New York also doesn't have to play Brooklyn, which is an advantage because it doesn't give the Nets a chance to gain a full game in the standings without needing help from a Knicks opponent.
The Nets and Pacers play one more time in Indiana, which also goes in the Knicks favor. Since the Pacers get the Nets at home, it is likely they will win the game. If the Knicks take care of business at the Garden against Indiana, they will have come out well ahead in the head-to-head games between the three teams.
It would be unfair not to take a quick look at injuries, since the Knicks and Pacers currently have significant players sidelined. For New York, Tyson Chandler has missed the last six games with a bulging disc in his neck. He is expected back some time this week, but given how sensitive neck injuries can be, it is conceivable that he will be out longer. The Knicks will also be without Amar'e Stoudemire for the rest of the regular season due to a knee injury, though the team usually plays better with STAT sidelined than when he is on the floor.
As for the Pacers, David West is currently sidelined with a lower back injury. Indiana's second leading scorer has sat the last four games, but he is also expected back within the week. Like neck injuries, back ailments can linger, so West may also be out a while longer.
The Nets are not dealing with any significant injuries at the present time.
Considering both the schedule and injury information, the Knicks look like a good bet to hold onto the second seed. Their remaining slate of games is tough, but the lack of road games and travel, as well as the advantage in the head-to-head matchups, should be enough to beat out Indiana and Brooklyn.
However it turns out, though, it should be a fun last three-and-a-half weeks of the regular season atop the Eastern Conference.
All schedule information current through games completed Saturday, March 23.